National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; transfer from the St. Elizabeths Hospital Museum
In 1861, Dorothea Dix was appointed superintendent of women nurses in Washington, D.C., a title she would hold without salary for the next five years. On the brink of sixty, dour in temperament, and disciplined in her work, Dix was totally dedicated to her task. The qualifications she set were harsh even by the standards of her day: "All nurses are required to be plain looking women. Their dresses must be brown or black, with no bows, no curls, no jewelry, and no hoop-skirts." And she would consider no woman under age thirty.
Dix worked throughout her life to improve conditions for the mentally ill. Her pioneering efforts established many institutions, such as St. Elizabeth's in Washington, D.C., the hospital that commissioned this portrait.
The sitter; gift to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Washington; transferred to NPG 1997